Saturday, November 27, 2010

This week on... TCM (November 28 - December 4)

I can't believe this week is the beginning of the last month of the year. Where does the time go (when you are watching too much tv)? This is an excellent week for TCM movie selections, however, I'm not thrilled about the scheduled times. Still, there are some real gems here. Classic comedies (The Odd Couple, The Great Dictator, A Night At The Opera, and The Thin Man); magnificent musicals (42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933); and chilling noirs (The Blue Dahlia, The Thin Man -- That movie is a little of EVERYTHING!). Plus, there's a continuation of TCM's original documentary series uncovering the history of Hollywood, Moguls & Movie Stars. This seven hour series, narrated by Christopher Plummer, is a must-watch. To paraphrase a comment I made over at Retroist, Turner Classic Movies is a channel for movie lovers by movie lovers. What sets it apart from all other movie channels, besides the consistently high quality of everything they do, is that they respect their audience as much as they respect the movies they represent. I get the impression that most channels don't have respect for their audience or their programming. This is why selecting my TCM viewing each week is such a big event!

Sunday, November 28
The Odd Couple (1968) 6:00 PM - The best movie theme tune!
No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1948) 8:00 PM - Controversial British noir
The Criminal (1962) 10:00 PM

Monday, November 29 (Moguls & Movie Stars and complementary films and Busby Berkeley)
Dames (1934) 6:00 AM
Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933) 11:30 AM - I think this is the best of the Gold Diggers, although it's 1935 that has Berkeley's masterpiece, 'Lullaby Of Broadway.'
42nd Street (1933) 1:15 PM - One of my favorite musicals!
Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood: Brother, Can You Spare A Dream? (episode 4) 7:00 PM
Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood: Warriors & Peace Makers (episode 5) 8:00 PM (and again at 11:00 PM) - This documentary series is MONUMENTAL. It's not to be missed.
The Great Dictator (1940) 12:00 AM

Tuesday, November 30
Hollywood Canteen (1944) 4:30 AM
Good News (1947) 8:00 PM - Musical with Peter Lawford. He's usually just a fella with an umbrella.

Wednesday, December 1 (theme: The history of Hollywood)
Cool Hand Luke (1967) 5:00 PM - It stars Paul Newman, and that's good enough!
Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood: Warriors & Peace Makers (episode 5) 10:00 PM
Citizen Kane (1941) 11:15 PM
Mildred Pearce (1945) 1:30 AM

Thursday, December 2
Manhattan Melodrama (1934) 3:45 PM - Nick, Nora, and... Gable.

Friday, December 3 (theme: some early morning film noir classics)
Man Hunt (1941) 6:00 AM - I saw the beginning of this Fritz Lang movie over the summer but didn't stay with it. I've regretted that ever since. It's an interesting concept. The movie was made in 1941, and, in the first few minutes of the movie, there's an armed man who happens to witness a vulnerable Hitler on a balcony. He aims at him but doesn't go through with any sort of assassination attempt. I don't know the full plot, but it sounds intriguing considering the year in which the film was released.
Foreign Correspondent (1940) 8:00 AM
The Blue Dahlia (1946) 10:15 AM - This is one of my favorite film noirs!! It's not available in the US. You'll just have to watch it today at this... weird time. (Worst thing is, IMDb has the nerve to show its Region 2 PAL DVD cover instead of just its movie poster! It has NEVER been available as a DVD in the US.)
The Big Clock (1948) 12:00 PM
A Place In The Sun (1951) 3:30 PM - Definitely worth a watch
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) 5:45 - More Mickey Spillane/Mike Hammer mystery
Fitzwilly (1967) 8:00 PM - Dick Van Dyke and Barbara Feldon comedy
Susan Slept Here (1954) 12:00 AM
The Beyond (1983) 2:00 AM - Eew, this looks scary/creepy. It takes place on a Hellmouth.

Saturday, December 4
A Night At The Opera (1935) 7:15 AM
The Thin Man (1934) 6:15 PM - ANOTHER favorite! This is one Dashiell Hammett film that's better than the book upon which it's based.
The Long Night (1947) 12:00 AM

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Spine Tingler!: The William Castle Story

Spine Tingler!: The William Castle Story is a 2007 documentary (directed by Jeffery Schwartz) making its debut on the Documentary Film Channel this November. The documentary traces the popularity of the master of 1950s and 1960s schlock horror. He was known for a series of quickly-made, cheap movies with legendary, over-the-top promotional ideas, or gimmicks. It was noted that he was half Alfred Hitchcock and half PT Barnum, a filmmaker and a showman. The gimmicks that became his trademark were as much a draw as the movies themselves. Not only were Castle's movies reviewed, the gimmicks were reviewed. His work, for the most part, was not critically acclaimed, but the films were wildly popular; made money; and, most importantly, made him a known name. William Castle branded himself through his completely off-the-wall promotional style, and his name became as big a box office draw as any famous actor. He was successful, in part, because he engaged the audience and made them part of his movies. Kids especially loved William Castle movies because his gimmicks made movie-going more of a spectacle and a personal experience. Why, surely, there weren't too many directors who had a national fan club (besides George Cukor, whose fans wore badges that averred 'I'm Cuckoo For Cukor!')!

William Castle was a Jewish orphan who, from an early age, longed to be an entertainer. He was a charmer with an inordinate amount of chutzpah and a mind like a sponge. Early in his career, he managed to finagle meetings with several powerful men who contributed to his later success. His first major theater job was with Bela Lugosi, who was then working on Broadway. He was employed in the theater when he impressed another rising star who would end up being one of his greatest influences, Orson Welles. Soon, Castle was ready to move on to Hollywood. Harry Cohn, then president of Columbia Pictures, was known as being a tough and intimidating personality, but he quickly warmed to the likeable Castle and gave him his first job. Castle's beginning in cinema was inauspicious; he was assigned a lot of lightweight, cheap 'b' comedies. Castle wanted to have more artistic control and make a name for himself as an 'a' movie director. He searched for a book to adapt for his first real film and settled on a gripping noir tale called If I Die Before I Wake. This was his discovery, and he was integral to the making of the film. When he presented the idea to the studio as a movie he would like to direct, it was approved, but he was relegated to co-producer. His old friend, Orson Welles, was named director, and the movie became The Lady From Shanghai. Despite the fact that he was disappointed at losing his discovery, working with Welles was an invaluable experience for him as a filmmaker.

But William Castle didn't want to be second-in-command. He still wanted to make a name for himself. One day, he saw a long queue of people waiting to see a French film, Les Diaboliques, a masterpiece of suspense. He watched the audience as closely as the movie, and it occurred to him how much people love the cheap thrill of fear. Castle was driven by his intense desire to entertain, and this was the seed of his signature use of gimmickry to promote his movies.

"Every picture had a gimmick," Castle once said of his films. His first foray into the art of the cheap gimmick was 1958's Macabre wherein the entire audience was covered by a real one million dollar Lloyd's of London insurance policy for Death By Fright. No one collected on the policy, but the gimmick drummed up ticket sales. Next, House On Haunted Hill boasted Emergo; glowing ghosts and skeletons emerged out of the screen and zipped across the theater on wires, much to the delight of theater-goers. Better yet, The Tingler utilized Percepto!, essentially a buzzer that was installed on select theater seats. Fainting and hysterical women were planted in the audience, and, part-way through the movie, it would appear that the projectionist had been attacked by the Tingler as a limp lobster-like shadow would flop across the blank movie screen. As some seats would begin to vibrate, Price's voice would sound over the PA, warning that if the audience didn't scream, the Tingler would get them. The theater would erupt in screams and everyone would have a great time. 13 Ghosts, seen in 'ectoplasmic color', utilized one of the more sophisticated technological advances, Illusion-O, a ghost viewer much like a pair of 3D glasses. Homicidal was Castle's first truly scary movie (some insisted that it was better than Psycho). This movie offered a Fright Break right before the climax scene; if you were too scared to watch the end, you could get a refund, but you'd have to be put to shame in the Coward's Corner first! Mr. Sardonicus was purported to have two endings, and the audience was given a Punishment Poll to determine the fate of the antagonist. No one ever saw the version of the film where Sardonicus lived. Then came Straight-Jacket, written by Robert Bloch, which had the greatest gimmick of all: it starred Joan Crawford.

Despite his success, Castle was inspired by fear of losing his audience. What would be the next great promotional feat? How could he ensure that his films would draw a crowd? And he still longed to be taken seriously as a director. Castle's two greatest disappointments bookended his career. The first was losing control of his first discovery, The Lady Of Shanghai. The second major disappointment came at the end of his career when he discovered another book that he wanted to have full creative control over: Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby. He quickly bought the rights to the book and planned to produce and direct the movie, but, once again, his discovery was handed over to another filmmaker. This time Castle was made producer, and the movie was given to a young director named Roman Polanski. While the success of Rosemary's Baby did give Castle the critical acclaim and the financial comfort that he had hoped to achieve, it was not without hardships. He had strayed from his formulaic gimmickry which had always been done in innocent fun, and this movie seemed to take on a sinister life of its own. It seemed cursed, and the stress of the backlash took its toll on Castle's health and almost ended his career and his life. As America entered a new decade, it was evident that it had grown up, and the jaded public had moved beyond Castle's penchant for schlock. Sure, America still loved to be scared, but now it needed the gruesome Night Of The Living Dead and the even more gruesome Texas Chainsaw Massacre to get its kicks. William Castle's productions were just too naive and too silly to be taken seriously by an American public that had seen too much in such a short time.

Now, all these years later, a whole new generation of theater-goers are discovering just how much fun William Castle films can be. Repertory theaters have shown his movies complete with re-creation of his gimmicks (now that's cooler than Rocky Horror!) much to the delight of the audience proving that William Castle's movies are still a real scream.

Keep checking your tv schedules for the next airing of Spine Tingler! The site currently lists the next airing as Friday, November 26 at 1:00 PM EST.

This week on... TCM (November 21-27)

Sunday, November 21
Suspicion (1941) 4:15 PM
High Society (1956) 6:00 PM - 'Hi, Hi, Hi So-ci.. High So-ci-et-y!' All-star musical remake of The Philadelphia Story with Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Celeste Holm (and Louis Armstrong, of course!)
Seconds (1966) 4:00 AM - An intriguing, confusing, bizarre thriller starring Rock Hudson. The story is kind of disturbing and stays with you but may leave you with many questions.

Monday, November 22 (Moguls & Movie Stars and complementary films)
A Night At The Movies: The Suspenseful World Of Thrillers (documentary) 6:00 AM
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) 7:00 AM - A Mickey Spillane-Mike Hammer mystery
The Big Clock (1948) 9:00 AM
That Touch Of Mink (1962) 3:00 PM - A delightful Doris Day/Cary Grant romantic comedy. Watch for the Automat scenes!
Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood: The Dream Merchants (episode 3) 7:00 PM
Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood: Brother, Can You Spare A Dream? (episode 4) 8:00 PM (and again at 11:00 PM)
Footlight Parade (1933) 9:00 PM

Tuesday, November 23 (theme: Boris Karloff)
You'll Find Out (1940) 10:45 AM - Kay Kyser meets Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi in a haunted house? I guess if you watch it, you'll find out!
The Body Snatcher (1945) 1:45 PM - Robert Louis Stevenson's Body Snatcher with the gruesome twosome, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. They just snatch, they don't invade!
Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947) 4:30 PM - It would be better if it were Dick Van Dyke meeting Gruesome (Karloff). My new dream job is 'plainclothesman'.
The Terror (1963) 5:45 PM - This is Roger Corman's The Terror, which could, potentially be quite terrible. Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson star.
12 Angry Men (1957) 2:00 AM - Excellent, excellent, excellent movie.

Wednesday, November 24 (theme: Marjorie Main and the history of Hollywood)
Mrs. O'Malley And Mr. Malone (1950) 5:15 PM - Marjorie Main stars in this comedic whodunit
It Happened One Night (1934) 8:00 PM - A must-watch!
Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood: Brother, Can You Spare A Dream? (episode 4) 10:00 PM
Duck Soup (1933) 11:15 PM
Top Hat (1935) 12:30 AM

Thursday, November 25
Bette Davis: The Benevolent Volcano (1984 documentary) 7:15 AM
It Happened Tomorrow (1944) 3:15 PM - Sequel to It Happened One Night? (Obviously, no)
My Favorite Brunette (1947) 6:30 PM

Friday, November 26 (theme: Hitchcock)
The Bribe (1949) 9:15 AM
Foreign Correspondent (1940) 11:00 AM
Strangers On A Train (1951) 1:00 PM - One of the best Hitchcocks
Dial M For Murder (1954) 2:45 PM
To Catch A Thief (1955) 4:45 PM
The Dick Cavett Show: Alfred Hitchcock (June 8, 1972) 6:45 PM
Burn! (1969) 1:00 AM - aka Queimada. It stars Marlon Brando.

Saturday, November 27 (theme: fading stars?)
Limelight (1952) 8:15 AM
A Star Is Born (1954) 8:00 PM
Funny Girl (1968) 11:15 PM

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fluorescerama - The Blue Dahlia (1946)

"It takes a lot of lights to make a city, doesn't it?"

In honor of Veronica Lake's birthday, I present one of my favorite film noirs. The Blue Dahlia was the first screenplay Raymond Chandler wrote which wasn't based on a published novel or story, and according to this TCM article, it's a small miracle that the film was ever completed. I'm thankful that it was because it's fantastic. It's one of those rare noirs that succeeds both in story and atmosphere. It oozes danger and glamour to shadowy perfection yet its plot isn't too convoluted to cause confusion. It, also, has an interesting cast of characters that sets this movie apart from more generic film noir fare.

In the film, Johnny (Alan Ladd) returns from the war only to discover that the life he left behind no longer exists. While he was gone, Johnny's wife became the toast of a bunch of rowdy revelers, and she became especially friendly with the owner of The Blue Dahlia nightclub. Johnny walks out soon after discovering his wife's infidelity. But, was he the last one to see her alive?

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake still from This Gun For Hire

Veronica Lake is the enigmatic Joyce who seems to materialize from the bright light of a street lamp like a guardian angel. In fact, she has the face of an angel and the gams of a she-devil! Joyce seems to be there whenever Johnny turns around. Who is she and how does she seem to know who he is?

William Bendix, one of Johnny's ex-GI friends (the other one is the Beaver's father, Hugh Beaumont!), steals every scene as the slightly manic, yet lovably loyal, Buzz. In fact, he seems a little too invested in Johnny's happiness. Maybe he was the last one to pay Johnny's wife a visit? Or maybe he just wants a little quiet. No more of that monkey music!!

Studio still from The Blue Dahlia

Veronica Lake and friend

The Blue Dahlia is, unfortunately, not available on DVD. It's been on TCM several times in the past year -- It looks like they have it on the schedule for Friday, December 3 (10:15 AM EST). Keep checking Paramount's archives to see if they ever release it (or make it available by request). [Also of interest: Doctor Macro's collection of the Alan Ladd old-time radio show, Box 13]

Saturday, November 13, 2010

This week on... TCM (November 14-20)

Sunday, November 14 (tribute to the Academy Film Archive)
I Confess (1953) 12:00 PM - Montgomery Clift and Karl Malden star in this Hitchcock film
Mr. Holland's Opus (1995) 5:30 PM
Night Tide (1961) 8:00 PM - A recently-restored and oddly-premised Dennis Hopper film

Monday, November 15 (Moguls & Movie Stars and complementary silent films)
The Big Heat (1953) 3:45 PM
The Lady From Shanghai (1948) 5:30 PM - According to Spine Tingler!, a fantastic documentary about William Castle, Castle discovered the book that became this film and wanted to make it himself, but it was given to Orson Welles.
Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood: The Birth Of Hollywood (episode 2) 7:00 PM
Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood: The Dream Merchants (episode 3) 8:00 PM (and again at 11:00 PM)

Tuesday, November 16 (Don Knotts)
Sleeper (1973) 2:30 PM
The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966) 8:00 PM - Don Knotts and Dick Sargent! Yes, The Second Dagwood Stephens.
The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975) 10:00 PM - Bill Bixby, Don Knotts, and Tim Conway!
No Time For Sergeants (1958) 2:00 AM

Wednesday, November 17 (The History Of Hollywood - silent greats)
Arsene Lupin (1932) 6:00 AM
The Kid (1921) 8:00 PM - Charlie Chaplin
The Pilgrim (1923) 9:00 PM - Charlie Chaplin
Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood: The Dream Merchants (episode 3) 10:00 PM
Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) 11:45 PM - Buster Keaton
Safety Last! (1923) 1:00 AM - Harold Lloyd
It (1927) 2:30 AM - Clara Bow and Pennywise had the same stylists.
Show People (1928) 4:00 AM

Friday, November 19
Two Girls And A Sailor (1944) 8:30 AM
Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) 12:00 AM
Daughter Of Horror (1957) 2:00 AM - Dementia, a film released two years earlier with no dialogue, re-cut with narration by Ed McMahon! You, too, may already be a winner!

Saturday, November 20
Ziegfeld Girl (1941) 6:00 AM - Look at this beautiful picture of Hedy Lamarr from this Busby Berkeley musical! Also featuring Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Tony Martin.
Up The River (1930) 10:00 PM

Saturday, November 6, 2010

This week on... TCM (November 7-13)

So many choices...

Sunday, November 7 (theme: Fritz Lang)
Till The Clouds Roll By (1946) 6:00 AM
The Tender Trap (1955) 12:00 PM
The Wrong Man (1956) 2:00 PM - Henry Fonda stars in this Hitchcock film based on a true story
A Shot In The Dark (1964) 4:00 PM - Inspector Clouseau returns
Metropolis (1927) 8:00 PM - This is the newest restoration
Metropolis Refound (2010) 11:00 PM - Documentary about the restoration
M (1931) 2:30 AM - The classic Peter Lorre/Fritz Lang movie

Monday, November 8 (Moguls & Movie Stars and complementary silent films)
Moguls & Movie Stars, A History Of Hollywood: Peepshow Pioneers (episode 1) 7:00 PM - The first episode was so good, it gave me chills. I think that bodes well for the rest of the series.
Moguls & Movie Stars, A History Of Hollywood: The Birth Of Hollywood (episode 2) 8:00 PM (repeat at 11:00 PM)
The Birth Of A Nation (1915) 12:15 AM

Tuesday, November 9 (Michael J. Fox's picks)
The Penguin Pool Murder (1932) 12:00 PM - I just like the idea of a murder mystery in an aquarium.
Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964) 8:00 PM - I'm still on the fence about this one.
The Parallax View (1974) 12:00 AM
Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949) 2:00 AM - This one stars Hayley Mills... and Hayley Mills! Oh wait, that's another movie...

Wednesday, November 10 (theme: The History Of Hollywood - silent movies)
Now, Voyager (1942) 1:30 PM
Mr. Skeffington (1944) 3:30 PM
The Immigrant (1917) 8:00 PM (45 mins) - Charlie Chaplin
Moguls & Movie Stars, A History Of Hollywood: The Birth Of Hollywood (episode 2) 10:00 PM

Thursday, November 11 (theme: Ava Gardner)
Crack-Up (1946) 10:45 AM
The Woman On The Beach (1947) 5:30 PM
Mogambo (1953) 8:00 PM
The Barefoot Contessa (1954) 10:00 PM
The Little Hut (1957) 2:15 AM

Friday, November 12 (theme: Gordon McRae)
Du Barry Was A Lady (1943) 11:30 AM - Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, and Red Skelton
Raffles (1930) 2:30 PM
The Swan (1956) 6:00 PM
Tea For Two (1950) 8:00 PM
The Daughter Of Rosie O'Grady (1950) 9:45 PM
Oklahoma! (1955) 11:45 PM
Galaxy Of Terror (1981) 2:15 AM - This sci-fi/horror b-movie stars Erin Moran and Ray Walston!

Saturday, November 13 (Teresa Wright)
The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946) 8:00 PM